TED is a very successful information and education business originally formed to foster the spread of ‘great ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design’. It now has greatly expanded to include ideas and issues in science, culture, education, and philosophy. The video output by TED features short talks by experts, thinkers, and doers at the annual TED Conferences; these video presentations are freely available to a global audience on the web. Videos showing TED Talks now have been viewed by billions and have achieved prominence in bringing science to the public, and bringing the public to science. This success has led other organizations and distant countries to get licensed by TED to sponsor their own TED-like projects.
TED videos dealing with science are high-quality productions with direct relevance both to ordinary people having interest and curiosity about science and research, and to working research scientists. In this article, I describe the organization of TED, summarize its many activities, explain how TED is financed, and discuss how a few TED videos with controversial ideas have been banned.
The organization of TED!
TED as a business has been sold several times and now is a private nonprofit organization (see “Our organization” ). The Sapling Foundation (New York, NY.), has been sponsoring the activities of TED since 2001 and offering free internet viewing of the Conference presentations since 2006 (see: “History of TED” ). The Chief Curator of TED activities since 2001, and owner of the Sapling Foundation, is Chris Anderson. This media and publishing entrepreneur has considerably expanded the topics and activities of TED, resulting in greatly raising the number of viewers of TED videos and of attendees at its many different events. The TED organization is global with major branches in Europe and Asia, and employs over 100 staff workers within the U.S.
The TED Conference and TED Talks!
The annual TED conferences continue their long tradition of enthusiastic gatherings. Prospective attendees at the TED conferences must first be approved (see “Conferences” at: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences ), and then must pay an admission fee for the week-long event (see “TED Conference Standard membership” at: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ). Invited speakers are selected by TED, and are not paid for their presentation. Each 18-minute presentation is professionally recorded and subsequently published on the internet; videos of over 2,000 TED Talks now are available gratis to the public (see listings of TED Talks on science at: https://www.ted.com/topics/science ). New videos are published each week. This huge collection of talks and performances now generates more activity than the main conference itself; the TED videos are seen as amplifiers of the conferences. TED videos are thought to be watched by over a million people every single day!
Other TED activities!
A growing number of other programs and activities now are organized by TED (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ). TED Global organizes international conferences with the TED format. The TED Open Translation Project started in 2009 and aims to enable the billions of people not speaking the English language to watch TED videos. Thousands of volunteer translators thus far have made numerous TED videos available in over 100 languages, thereby vastly increasing the outreach of the TED video collection. The TEDx Program is focused on licensed TED-like events organized by local independent non-profit sponsors. Some live presentations of music performances are included in the TEDxMusic project. The very successful organizational concept for presentations at TED Conferences now has been expanded to include events for TEDxYouth, TEDxCorporate, and TEDxWomen. Other newer official or independently licensed TED activities include TED Fellows (young persons who attend and later organize TED events in their native country), and TEDMED (sessions for health professionals). Recordings from these other activities are added to the TED video catalog.
Newer TED activities (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ) include TED Books, which publishes shorter volumes in hard copy that can be read in one sitting. TED-Ed presents conferences by teachers and students about new ideas to improve youthful education (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-ed ); its output includes videos with lessons and pathways for many different levels of education in science and non-science. TED sponsors the TED Prize for the developer of the most outstanding new idea for improving our modern world; the winner’s award currently is set at $1,000,000.
Financing to support all the TED activities and programs!
In 2017, each approved regular attendee at the TED Conference must pay $8,500 (see: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ). Several levels of higher fees also exist. With over 1,000 attendees at each annual Conference, this provides a very solid financial foundation for TED. Corporate supporters of TED generally are very large companies; these are not involved in organizing the events or choosing the presenters. Speakers at a TED Conference or other event receive no money for their participation.
Critical discussion about TED!
My opinion is that TED is very good for science and science education! Its videos furnish a giant opportunity for the public to see science and scientists as being something other than a Hollywood-type amusement, and to learn about how the truth is sought by research activities in science. The scientists presenting at TED conferences mostly overcome the difficult problems with bringing science to the poorly-educated adult public.
Certain TED video presentations feature ideas that are so provocative that they have been withheld from the TED catalog. To view some actual examples, see listing by Ravindranath Shrivastava at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2Y8qeLGzzd_P_5xxwDesKuyrAemRfxUk . This kind of censorship is both unnecessary and worrisome, particularly with regard to science. Controversy and questioning are inherent parts of scientific research, and are both expected and welcomed by scientists; these disputes serve a good purpose for science and society!
I believe that the controversies generated by a few TED speakers would be better understood and valued if pairs of opposing speakers, or panels of presenters and critical discussants, could hold forth at the TED conferences. Opposing positions both should be given side-by-side instead of having only one individual presenting his/her viewpoint.
Several of the ‘banned TED videos’ still can be viewed, and those provide evidence suggesting that some things just are not seen rightly at TED. It is good to note that the banned presenters and their critics sometimes subsequently offer non-TED videos with rebuttals, explanations, and discussions; these are freely available at Shrivastava’s listing (see above)!
The TED videos are indeed useful and very special! TED makes a very good contribution to all of adult education in the modern world by enabling the public to obtain a much better awareness of new ideas, alternative solutions, and unconventional beliefs. That is very beneficial both within science and outside science. TED obviously should be highly praised for making all their videos available to the public without charge.
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